Sunday, January 14, 2018

New York's civil commitment statute for sex offenders under scrutiny

Under New York's decade-old Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act, convicted sex offenders can be kept in secure psychiatric hospitals indefinitely after their prison terms expire, reported the Albany Times-Union. If an offender is found to have a mental abnormality that makes the person likely to commit another sex crime, the state can — after a court hearing — order the offender committed as a patient in a secure psychiatric hospital. (There are currently no women in civil confinement.)
The system has drawn a number of legal challenges in recent years, and some of those who are committed have said they aren't receiving the kind of treatment that was contemplated when the law was passed 10 years ago. They characterize their confinements as little more than extensions of prison terms, albeit in a hospital rather than a correctional facility.
In a series of interviews with the Times Union in recent months, numerous men who are being held at the Central New York Psychiatric Center after having served prison terms for crimes ranging from sexual abuse to rape said they are receiving little meaningful treatment. They said that sexual activity often goes unpunished, that there is access to pornography, and that mental health sessions often devolve into debates about who controls the television.
"These so-called social workers who run these groups are not psychologists," said Enrique Torres, who was first convicted at age 14 when he raped a 4-year-old girl who his mother was babysitting. "Real psychologists are not participating in these programs."
Torres said that he believes his abuse of children stemmed from the fact he was repeatedly sexually abused as a child.
"I thought this was a normal thing," Torres said. "I'm not saying that treatment doesn't work — I'm saying that this place doesn't provide treatment."
Torres' case is unique. After he served a prison term for a second conviction for sexual abuse, he was confined to a mental health facility. A state Supreme Court justice reviewed his case and ruled the state's confinement program was unconstitutional. But the case, State of New York v. Enrique T., was overturned by an appeals court that rejected the argument that the "statute is unconstitutional as applied to him and those sex offenders who may ultimately be approved for civil management under strict and intensive supervision and treatment, a less restrictive alternative to confinement."
But Torres and others being held indefinitely said they are effectively locked up in a prison-like setting. Torres said that he was living in the community following his second release from prison without re-offending and was undergoing voluntary mental health counseling that he said was working.
"I understand nobody wants to be the advocate for the sex offenders," he said. "It's a really disgusting situation we brought upon ourselves. But 17 years ago I committed that offense. I've been in the community. I didn't commit another sex offense."
In general, the process for confining an offender to a mental facility begins with a state-funded psychiatrist or psychologist examining the person for a few hours. If the psychologist determines the person has a mental abnormality that makes them likely to re-offend, the state Attorney General's office files court proceedings to have them confined.
The Justice Department attorney recently interviewed another offender who is confined with Torres at the state's Marcy psychiatric hospital, where multiple patients have filed civil rights lawsuits trying to unravel the confinement program.
"They called me up and we spoke for about two and a half hours," Charlie Gerena said of a conversation he had with the Justice Department official, Julie Abbate, in November.
Gerena said overcrowding in the facility was one of the topics they discussed.
"We have people in side rooms," he said, explaining that offenders are in rooms that used to be reserved as "time-out" spaces where people could get away from others and have some quiet time by themselves.
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